(Here is the reflection I shared during worship on New Year’s Day, 2012 )
Ecclesiastes 3:1, 11-14a
It’s probably not surprising that I’ve been thinking about gifts this holiday season. Of course, I’ve been considering what gifts to give others and I’ve been enjoying the gifts others have given me. And as one year ends and another begins, I’ve been thinking about what it means to accept my life as a gift from God.
I’ll be honest with you–my life is not exactly the way I want it to be. I wrote this reflection on Christmas Eve, feeling sick, having too much to do to be ready for church and family Christmas celebrations after a week of kids missing school with fevers and coughing. Like everyone, I have rough spots in my life. Times of illness and stress and just plain grumpiness. Times it is difficult to accept life as the gift that it is.
I imagine Mary had one of those times when she found out about the census. Can you imagine? Nearly 9 months pregnant and she’s expected to travel to Bethlehem? Walking and riding the donkey; walking and riding the donkey. And then not even a comfortable bed at the end of the journey. What must Mary have been thinking when the contractions started there in the stable? As she paced the straw-strewn floor, stepping over piles of dung and around various animals? Was she thinking about how life is a gift from God?
It’s difficult to keep in mind the holiness of life, the fact of life as a gift, when we are having a bad day; when our plans crumble; when our bodies ache, our computer breaks, the weather does not cooperate.
And beyond having bad days, many of us face deep disappointments about the reality of our lives. Some people desperately want children, but cannot have them. Some people have struggles with their children that they never imagined–they feel they are unable to be the parents they want to be or to have the family life they had hoped for. Some people feel they married the wrong person, chose the wrong career path. Some people fall into addiction. Nearly all of us struggle to get our lives in line with our values.
I’m sure Mary and Joseph had imagined their lives quite differently. Sure, giving birth in a stable was inconvenient, but the pregnancy itself was the real issue. What would this pregnancy and birth mean for their life together, for their standing in the community? This was not the life Mary or Joseph had planned.
Yet life is a gift from God. That’s what I’ve been thinking about during this season of giving; amidst the Christmas gifts and the magi bearing their treasures. That this life that I am living is a gift; it is a treasure.
That doesn’t always feel true. But it is true. And the beginning of the year seems like a good time to think about this truth.
I’m not talking about being thankful despite your bad days and disappointments. We can always find someone worse off than we are. We can always find something that is good in the midst of our messy lives. And those are good practices–to gain some perspective, not focus on the negative.
This morning, though, I’m talking about something different. I’m talking about receiving your life–all of your life–as a gift from God. The joys and disappointments. The parts that turn out the way you want and the parts that don’t. For God has made everything beautiful in its time. Amen.